For weather like this: cold chocolate snacking cake
I made this cake back in July, when I was still at home in the States. I would have posted about it back then, but as I foreshadowed in this post, I made it only a few days before leaving for Paris and I had quite a few other things on my mind to worry about. I don’t normally make stuff and then post about it significantly later—it seems weird to me, out of place—but I actually think this type of treat is perfect for this time of year. You get the occasionally chilly day where the idea of baking a cake sounds cozy, but there’s still plenty of warm days (or hot days, like last Friday’s 90-degree F weather) that would gladly welcome a chilled dessert. So, I think it actually works out better that I’m sharing this cake now. Plus, you know, I haven’t really cooked anything besides buttered pasta since these chocolate chip cookies, and a stand-in recipe is just the thing I need. WIN-WIN.
This doesn’t quite fit in with my past few weeks in France, though. I don’t think a “snacking cake” is something that exactly translates into my life here in France. Yes, there is the goûter eaten at approximately 4 or 5 pm every day by the kids, which involves some sort of petit gâteau, biscuit or cookie along with some fruit. I suppose something like this could be served during that time, but I think it is much more likely that it would be relegated, like most sweet things, for dessert. Following dinner and fromage, this dessert would be sliced up, served around the table, and eaten together. Some people might take seconds, if it’s good. But any remaining cake would, no doubt, be wrapped up and returned to the fridge, awaiting the following evening when the whole process would repeat itself.
This is entirely different than the way things progressed when I made this cake at home in Washington. Back there, this sort of sweet has a purpose of its own: it is to be enjoyed at all hours of the day, and for no reason. It remains in the fridge with a butter knife placed strategically alongside it, resting peacefully for its next visitor. My whole family will take turns (some more than others, cough-cough-dad-cough) opening up the fridge and attempting to take slivers of the cake before giving in to a proper slice. It is just the sort of thing we like to take wedges of after dinner, too, but I think we were only able to do this one night. The day-snacking makes pretty big dents in the cake, after all.
It is just the type of eating-snacking that my family loves to do. I miss it, but mostly just for sentimental reasons. As in, I basically just miss my family, but not so much the actual part about snacking on cake all day long—if you can believe it. I quite like the eating routine I’ve settled into here in France. All the food is shut up in cupboards or in the fridge, and it’s not exactly of the snacky sort (as in, there’s no big bags of chips and salsa lying around like back home in the US). However, dinner lasts a long time, and the multiple courses end in fromage and then yogurt and fruit and then perhaps a sweet, most nights.
But still, I really do like this chocolate cake recipe, and I think it was pretty brilliant of Sue to harken back to the Sara Lee chocolate cake days by laying a thick frosting on it and placing it in the fridge. It has an air of American nostalgia surronding it, for sure. But it makes you wonder why this sort of thing isn’t more common—some things are just so much better cold, and straight from the fridge. In this case, the cake moist and slightly squidgy, but dry enough to be sliced and slivered properly.
And what I think is actually convenient with this specific cake recipe is that it has a pretty intense chocolate flavor. This means that means I don’t end up eating half the cake in a one-hour span—it’s just impossible, it’s too rich. It’s like it has a built-in pacing device. Once again, it’s a win-win: you eat delicious cold chocolate cake as a snack, the richness is ensures that it remains a snack instead of a substitution for a meal. Unless you want it to.
PS: A matter of extreme importance — Speaking of weather that is neither hot nor cold, I’m out of music to listen to. I tend to veer towards pop or weirdo-indie-but-mainstream stuff in the summertime, when the weather is warm and I feel like listening to something upbeat. In the winter, as you might remember, I go through all sorts of turns through darker, weirder music which knows no time era or socially acceptable bounds. Right now, they both don’t feel quite appropriate. What are you guys listening to? New, old, whatever! Let me know, because I’m kind of desparate.
Yes, this cake is baked in a slightly nonconventional pan. Sue did this to attain a thinner cake, one more akin to the classic Sara Lee kind with the layer of chocolate frosting on top. If you don’t have a 7×11 or 8×12-inch cake or tart pan, I would just use an 8×8 pan and bake it for longer. You’ll just have an extra thick layer of frosting (oh boo hoo) and cake.
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, well chopped
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted to remove any clumps
First, make the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 7×11 or an 8×12 cake or tart pan; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and salt until smooth, making sure to press out any cocoa powder lumps. Set aside.
In a medium-large bowl with an electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about a minute. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure scrape the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add in the vanilla and blend to combine. On low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with a quarter cup of sour cream after the first and second flour additions.
Scrape the batter into the prepared cake/tart pan, and tap the pan against the counter a couple times to make sure any air bubbles within the batter are released. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to rest in the pan on a wire rack until completely cool, at least a good hour or so. Once cool, store in the fridge (both before and after it gets its frosting layer).
When the cake is cooling, prepare the frosting. In a medium bowl, heat the cream in the microwave on high heat until simmering, about a minute and a half (check every 15 seconds or so). Add in the chopped chocolate and allow to sit in the hot cream for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk to blend, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture becomes smooth. Add in the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, and continue to whisk until the mixture is completely smooth and glossy. Place in the fridge to chill and solidify, for at least an hour and a half. Once solidified enough to be decently spreadable, scrape onto the chilled cake and spread into an even layer. Return the now frosted cake back into the fridge to set for at least an hour. Serve cold, any time of day.